by Kevin Coupe

“We’re entering a new world. Things change, so we have to be open to that.”

Words to live by, and words to do business by.

They come in a fascinating New York Times story about a project using drones to deliver organs to doctors planning to use them in transplants. Here’s how the Times frames the story:

“A custom-made drone delivered a kidney this month to a Maryland woman who had waited eight years for a lifesaving transplant.

“While it was only a short test flight — less than three miles in total — the team that created the drone at the University of Maryland says it was a worldwide first and a crucial step in its quest to speed up the delicate and time-sensitive task of delivering donated organs.

“The team’s leader, Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he pursued the project after constant frustration over organs taking too long to reach his patients. After organs are removed from a donor, they become less healthy with each passing second. He recalled one case when a kidney from Alabama took 29 hours to reach his hospital. ‘Had I put that in at nine hours, the patient would probably have another several years of life,’ Dr. Scalea said Tuesday. ‘Why can’t we get that right?’”

The story notes that “the drone used in this month’s test had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem 400 feet in the air. Two pilots on the ground monitored it using a wireless network, and were prepared to override the automated flight plan in case of emergency. The drone also had built-in devices to measure temperature, barometric pressure and vibrations, among other indicators.”

Which leads me to ask the following question:

If we are going to entrust organs to be used in transplants to drones, don’t groceries seem like a much easier lift?

And the follow-up question:

Doesn’t this really tell us that the use of drones for delivery - in both extraordinary and mundane circumstances - is hardly the stuff of futuristic fantasy, and in fact, is here? Now?

The Times quotes Dr. Christopher Marsh, the director of the transplant program at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., and a member of the American Society of Transplantation, as saying that while it is “too early to pass judgment on the reliability of delivering organs by drone,” early evidence certainly suggests that it could “helpful.”

And that’s when he utters the sentences are should be Eye-Opening:

“We’re entering a new world. Things change, so we have to be open to that.”